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Sept. 15, 2017, 4 a.m.
Business Models

If you build a quality news brand and deliver that news in a quality format that’s convenient, customizable, and clean, readers will come — and maybe pay.

This is according to a qualitative report published Friday that was commissioned by the Reuters Institute and undertaken by the firm Kantar Media (with funding from Google’s Digital News Initiative). For the report, researchers interrogated news consumers’ openness to paying for (or not paying for) news online through discussion groups in four countries — Finland, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. Participants in the study were asked, for instance, their feelings on various possible propositions from news organizations, such as “turn off your adblocker,” “please pay for an ad-free experience,” “pay for a membership with benefits,” “pay for unrestricted access.” (These in-person discussions were used to inform the 2017 Reuters Institute main report on digital news.)

People in the study expressed a begrudging familiarity with soft and hard publisher paywalls:

“I don’t think that’s bad to pay to continue reading. You get an idea of the news with the headlines. If you want to go deeper, you pay,” said one respondent from Spain who fell in the 35-54-year-old age group.

“It’s just quite straightforward and I think you know what you are getting,” said another in the UK (age 35-54).

Most of the people involved in the discussions, though, “were not aware of the funding challenge facing the news industry,” the report emphasized. Many were also unsympathetic to the general idea of a news company asking for money to support its business:

“It feels like it should be a charity for my cats or something like that. It doesn’t sit right with me — fundraising,” said one person interviewed in the UK (age 35-54).

“They are crying dollar signs but it doesn’t make sense to me. Have a big gala and invite your top investors or people who you know will donate big bucks. Don’t come to me,” said a U.S. participant (age 20-34).

“I don’t really have a bleeding heart for these kinds of websites. I am more of a home town girl trying to give my money towards people I know,” said another U.S. participant (age 20-34).

Participants were divided about paying for a potential service that would bundle different news sources and allow for micropayments for individual stories (à la services like Blendle or LaterPay, which the participants didn’t seem to be aware of).

“I like the range and per article. I think that is an amazing idea,” said one U.S. participant (20-34).

“Every time I am deciding to read an article, even though it is cents, I am going to think do I really want to read this article?” said another U.S. participant (35-54).

For the full report and other revealing quotes from people interviewed for the study, download here.

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